I didn’t think I’d be that woman
I didn’t think I’d be that woman.
You know, the canine version of the cat lady.
I have friends who lovingly and proudly refer to themselves as cat ladies. They have cats and love them dearly. I don’t question or besmirch that. I’ve offered condolences to them on the loss of a cat. Honestly though, I used to think it was a little weird, and a bit much when I saw how grieved they were. But now I don’t.
I never had a pet growing up. Well, unless you count the goldfish I would win each year at the annual Purim carnival. We’d bring those home and they’d live for a couple of weeks and then we’d give them the typical “burial at sea,” as they say. No cats in our house, mom was allergic to them (I am now too). No hamsters or guinea pigs. No dogs, though I do remember my sister and I asking if we could have one.
So it was a bit of a self-revelation when ten years ago, after beginning a phase of life in which I would be working from home, that I found myself asking my husband if we might consider adopting a dog. I had found that I was going a bit stir crazy being home alone all day. Rather than talking to myself, it seemed less lonely if I had a companion to talk to and keep me company. He was open to it, especially because he came from a dog family; he still talks about Wink. We decided a dog would be good for for our boys, who were 13 and 8 years old at the time, and me.
Cookie entered our lives in a big way. We rescued her from the animal shelter, having been abandoned by a cruel person who left her along the side of a highway. Her days there were numbered. We were probably her last hope. We still laugh at how we didn’t realize how big she was until we got her home and realized her wagging tail would hit the walls in the hallway of our small home when she’d walk down it to find us. We were never sure what her DNA make up was, yet she clearly had many features of a Great Dane. Wow.
Well, this week, 10 years later, we had to say goodbye to Cookie. We all knew she was declining. Though we never knew her exact age, we guesstimated it at somewhere between 12-14 years old. Among other things, she had a neuromuscular degenerative disease moving up her spine. She could no longer stand long enough to get through a bowl of food. And one afternoon this past week, she just couldn’t stand anymore. So, as a family we all said our goodbyes, both in person and virtually (thank you Facetime). She laid her head on my lap and my husband held on too, both of massaging her favorite spots.
And for two days afterwards I was sad, grieving, missing her presence in the house. The only thing that made me feel better was writing about her or talking about her with friends. I had to sit my own little type of shiva for her. In a way, I became that woman, that dog-lady. I realized that it’s not such a quirky thing to love one’s pet and miss them when they’re gone.
So, this blog is a way for me to get some of my grief out. Like a eulogy of sorts. My kids have done it too, on their Facebook and Instagram pages, each in their own way.
My dear friend Rabbi Paul Kipnes helped me too, with this prayer he sent to me:
Mekor HaChayim, Source of all that lives, we come before You this day in sadness.
(Pet’s name), who brought us so much joy in life, has now died. (His/Her) happy times
in our family’s embrace have come to an end. We miss (pet’s name) already.
Help us, O God, to remember the good times with (pet’s name). Remind us to rejoice in
the happy times (he/she) brought to our home. Let us be thankful for the good life we
were blessed to give to (him/her).
We are grateful to You, Holy One, for creating (pet’s name), for entrusting (him/her) to
our care, and for sustaining (him/her) in our love for a measure of time. We understand
that all that lives must die. We knew that this day would come. And yet, O God, we
would have wanted one more day of play, one more evening of love with (pet’s name).
O God, as we have taken care of (pet’s name) in life, we ask that You watch over
(him/her) in death. You entrusted (pet’s name) to our care; now, we give (him/her) back
to You. May (pet’s name) find a happy new home in Your loving embrace.
As we remember (pet’s name), may we love each other more dearly. May we care for all
Your creatures, for every living thing, as we protected the blessed life of (pet’s name).
May (his/her) memory bless our lives with love and caring forever. Amen.
[Adapted from Prayers by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman and Rabbi Barry Block]
As I swept the floors this morning, I realized that there was already less Cookie hair gathering on the bottom of my Swiffer. For 10 years I complained about her shedding. “Our next dog won’t shed!,” I would declare. But this morning, it didn’t seem so bad to have had to sweep up all that hair for these years. She gave us a lot more than strands of hair. She protected me from strangers at the door. Little did they know her big bark was meant more to be friendly than frightening. She gave all of us, including extended family members, confidence to be around big dogs. She gave my boys someone to care for and love and take responsibility for. She gave us unending love.
And we all loved her back. Hopefully our love gave her redemption from the cruelty of her prior owners. Hopefully our love gave her a sense of security and warmth. Hopefully it gave her knowledge that she was part of a family who would not give up on her.
So Cookie’s memory will bless our lives. We will remember her. Her unending love will continue to strengthen us all.